My favorite posts of 2010, from the very personal to the very cosmic
I love writing this blog and, if I could do only this for a living, I probably would. I like that it makes me pay attention to what’s going on in my professional world, encourages me to think about the implications, introduces me to fellow travelers, and allows the all-too-rare satisfaction (in the policy world, at least) of having a work product completed and published almost every day.
I like all my posts, but some especially: there are occasions when I have more time or inspiration than I usually do. Looking back over the 250 or so that I wrote this year, these are some of my favorites:
- Anyone who has read many of my posts knows that I especially love profiling great examples of smart, green development. I could pick any of quite a few such entries from 2010 as a favorite, but I am particularly pleased with the two-part series I wrote on Denver’s Highlands’ Garden Village (here and here) that, because of extraordinary access to and candor from the development team, allowed a close look at not only its achievements but also its compromises.
- Not nearly as pleasurable was that, as I seem to have to do every year, I had to call out what amounts to still more faux green awards given to high-tech buildings that are anything but green when one considers the transportation emissions they will generate because of lousy site selection. I am sad to say that this year’s culprits were the American Institute of Architects and the US Green Building Council, two otherwise fine organizations I enjoy working with. In a related post, I also presented the claim of a private developer whose purported “net zero” subdivision was basically “sprawl by another name.” To invoke Pete Seeger, when will they ever learn?
- I wrote a two-part series on rural communities and smart growth (part two here), which focuses on places I have a personal connection to.
- Perhaps the most personal of all my posts, however, were two autobiographical essays: my salute to the amazing Blue Ridge Parkway (“the long and winding road that made me an environmentalist”) and my Earth Day entry describing the evolution of my career (“a journey for the environment, from NIMBY to YIMBY”). Not all my NRDC colleagues were happy with the latter but it is my story, not theirs.
- I wrote several posts on the nature of smart growth, something that obviously has remained on my mind throughout the year as I contemplate whether we have learned enough during the 15 years or so that the cause has been around. I wish more people cared; it’s so easy in this business to lose the forest for the trees. In a sense, these five entries all attempt to get at the same thing: “moving smart growth forward”; “the environmental paradox of smart growth”; “addressing the paradox”; “it’s time to update the definition of smart growth”; and “smart growth principles for the 21st century.”
- A closely related but broader favorite subject was the nature of sustainable communities. The evolution of my job at NRDC caused me to consider what cities should do to become more sustainable and resilient as well as the more basic “what is a sustainable community?” But the post on this subject that I like best is “sustainable places: where the healing can begin.” (That one, by the way, offended the owner of a small landscape architecture firm in Illinois who believes she has exclusive right to the phrase, “sustainable places.” Um, no you don’t.)
- Also on the subject of sustainability, I wrote a post urging advocates and policymakers to think not just about “cities” but also about regions and neighborhoods, two scales that, although weak jurisdictionally, are arguably much more important to the environment and to livability.
- It was a pleasure to write some high-wonkiness posts that report the strengthening of our field through important new research and data. Not a small amount came from our friends at the Center for Neighborhood Technology, whose longstanding Housing+Transportation Affordability Index culminated this year in the publication of a massive database and what I called “the most important analysis of land use you’ll see all year.” Of course, it was soon followed by what I had to call “the definitive study of how land use affects travel behavior,” Ewing and Cervero’s exhaustive and highly illuminating research synthesis. I also had the pleasure of reporting on and test-driving (so to speak) CNT’s Abogo transportation costs calculator and the national database of land and demographic data around rail transit stations developed by CNT’s affiliate, Reconnecting America.
- And I spent a lot of time researching and composing a two-part photo essay on Braddock, Pennsylvania, a badly disinvested industrial town struggling to forge a future with new identity. That story and those images continue to haunt me months after the post.
Speaking of images, I’ll close by highlighting two unusual posts: First, I’ll mention the extraordinary sketches on sustainability and urbanism by my talented friend, architect Dhiru Thadani. Highly recommended. And, second, I cannot close without mentioning what has become my most popular post of all time, “this week’s sign of the apocalypse.” Consisting only of a single image, it has received between 25,000 and 30,000 viewings so far and continues to draw more every week. Go figure. (That's the one that earns the "very cosmic" label referenced in this post's title, by the way.)
I have immense gratitude for my colleagues on NRDC’s communications team that give me this platform and somehow keep it humming; you rock. Special thanks also to the sites in addition to my home base here at NRDC that regularly feature my posts, including the Sustainable Cities Collective, DailyKos, Huffington Post, Rooflines, CNU Salons, and Grist.
Props are due also to an amazing bunch of urbanist and environmental Facebook and real-life friends who keep me informed on all sorts of subjects from the amusing to the profound, and thanks especially to the fabulous blog writers whose work on these subjects continually inspires me, including Steve Mouzon, Chuck Marohn, Dave Reid, Chuck Wolfe, Daniel Nairn, Aaron Renn, Jon Hiskes, Richard Layman, Sam Newberg, Justin Horner, Deron Lovaas, Mary Newsom, Jason King, Chewie, Randy Simes, Payton Chung, Warren Karlenzig, John Michlig, Karja Hansen, and some I am probably forgetting. Keep up the great work.
Finally, of course, I owe all of this to my readers, without whom there would be little point. May your 2011 be the best year yet.
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Kaid Benfield writes (almost) daily about community, development, and the environment. For more posts, see his blog's home page.
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